Behind Enemy Lines: Alstott's Last Stand?

Mike Alstott likely is playing his last game Sunday against Seattle. The 11-year veteran does not have a contract for next season and acknowledged that it could be the A-Train's last stop. "You don't know. I don't know right now," Alstott said after practice Wednesday, his helmet pushed back on his head. "I don't. I don't know what my future is.

I don't know what my decision is going to be. As a whole, contractually and my decision right now, it potentially could be the last game."

Arguably the most popular player in Bucs' history, Alstott signed a 1-year, $1.5-million contract last March. But he saw his role as a short-yardage and goal line back reduced and had only 32 carries entering last week's game at Cleveland.

But with Cadillac Williams nursing a foot injury, Alstott had a season-high 22 carries for 56 yards in the Bucs' 22-7 win over the Browns, his most rushing attempts since 2002 when the Bucs won the Super Bowl. That performance left the 33-year-old running back sore but satisfied.

"But as I always say, if you're sore waking up after a game and it's a win, it's a great soreness," Alstott said. "My number's called and I look forward to it. It's been a long time. You've got to thrive on the moments that your number is called and the opportunities you get. Football doesn't last forever and I enjoy everything that has come about right now and what's going to happen in the future."

Alstott said he feels physically capable of continuing playing for another few years but won't decide whether to continue until after the season. "As far as playing at a high level and competing and doing some good things, I know I can play," Alstott said. "My body feels good. But do I continue? That decision has to be made later.

"I don't know. No, really -- I don't know. I don't want to put a time frame on it because that's not fair either. We'll think about it and see what happens. I'm sure there will be some conversations with the Bucs if I do want to pursue going forward and maybe playing and see what their interest level is of me playing. But I'm kind of excited about this week. It is the last game of the '06 season and it's at home, an 11-year career in front of a great crowd, a great community. They back me and I'd like to go out on a high note."

One thing appears for certain: Alstott doesn't seem interested in finishing his career with another team. "I don't even want to think about that," Alstott said. "I've said I'm a Buccaneer and I'll always be a Buccaneer.

Alstott's teammates would like to send Alstott out on a winning note. Linebacker Derrick Brooks said he's unaware if Alstott plans to hang it up. "I'm kind of like the fans, too," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "I don't know if this is his last game or not."

For the Bucs (4-11), nothing else is really significant about Sunday's game. The Seahawks already know they will host a wildcard game against either Dallas or Philadelphia. That said, coach Mike Holmgren wants to play his starters and try to win the game to create some momentum heading into the playoffs.

"It's important to us because we haven't played our best football," Hasselbeck said. "We've been battling different things all season long, so we're going to want to go out there and try to correct some things that we've been making mistakes with and hopefully get our groove back a little bit."

Quarterback Tim Ratty will get his second straight start for the Bucs. He played well last week in a 22-7 win at Cleveland, one week after throwing three touchdowns to force overtime at Chicago. Gruden is impressed with Rattay, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. His poise under pressure has been in stark contrast to rookie Bruce Gradkowski.

"No disrespect to Bruce Gradkowski, but he's showing poise," Gruden said. "He's under control. He's playing the quarterback position. He's using all five eligibles. I think he's delivering the ball to open receivers where they have a chance to catch it, where Bruce had a tendency to be a little bit wild. And I think he's playing the way you would expect a veteran quarterback to play."

SERIES HISTORY: Seventh meeting. Seahawks lead the series 5-1. Seattle won the last meeting 10-6 in Tampa in 2004, a game in which Chris Simms saw his first NFL action in replacing Brad Johnson.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Chris Simms signed a 2-year contract that could earn him as much as $14-million, Wednesday. Simms said he didn't subscribe to the "grass is greener," approach and opted to forgo free agency to remain in Tampa Bay. Simms also pointed to his contract as proof the Bucs consider him the starter. "I think the contract itself is talking to you guys enough," Simms said. "I think it's starter money. I do. I'm not trying to put myself out there or put anybody else down, but I believe that coach and Bruce Allen made a commitment to me and are telling me we've got a lot of confidence in you and go do it."

--As bad as the Bucs' season has been, the real disappointment is a .500 record would have put them in playoff contention. "We're in the position we're in because of the way we played," Brooks said. "It's just unfortunate that our record isn't a little better, or we'd still be in the playoff race. But you wish teams well. All we can do is go out here and try to finish on a high note."

--So much for sentimentality. Receiver Joey Galloway feels no emotion playing against Seattle, the team that drafted him. "No. There's only maybe on or two guys left, I believe," Galloway said. "Mack Strong was there. But other than that, I don't know of many guys that are still on the team when I was there."

BY THE NUMBERS: 32 -- Prior to last Sunday, FB Mike Alstott had 32 carries this season. He had 22 against the Cleveland Browns.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They haven't helped us much, but that's the way the ball bounces, as they say." -- Bucs coach Jon Gruden on the team's considerable injury list.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES


--QB Bruce Gradkowski said he would like to see some action in Sunday's season finale against Seattle. But coach Jon Gruden said there are no plans to get him into the game.

--RB Cadillac Williams (foot) has been upgraded to questionable for Sunday's game, but it appears it will be a long shot if he plays.

--CB Ronde Barber still needs one INT to break the club record of 30 held by Donnie Abraham.

--RG Davin Joseph, who missed three games with a knee sprain, is questionable for Sunday's game against Seattle.

--RB Michael Pittman took reps with the first team Wednesday. Pittman had a season-high 16 carries for 86 yards last Sunday at Cleveland.

GAME PLAN: The Bucs will start Tim Rattay and hope that he can lead them to a second straight win to end the season. To Gruden, 5-11 sounds a lot better than 4-12. The Bucs will be without Cadillac Williams, so they will go with the running back by committee approach with Mike Alstott, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham.

"I don't know from their standpoint what they feel is at stake," Gruden said. "Maybe they want to improve their execution. Maybe they want to go out on a high note and get some momentum for the playoffs. For us, it's a matter of going out and playing a complete football game and trying to improve. We have a lot of newcomers playing and we'd like to pick up on where we left off the second half against Chicago and last week in Cleveland."

Defensively, the Bucs are coming off one of their best games with four interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Derrick Brooks. "We haven't played them in a while and right now they're in a rhythm, offensively, and they want to continue to be strong heading into the playoffs," Brooks said. "So, our focus is really on Seattle and doing what we can do to get a win."

Brooks said he believes the Bucs can build on the momentum of the Cleveland game. "We felt we played pretty well in the second half against Chicago and I think collectively it was a pretty good outing in Cleveland," Brooks said. "We would have liked to have finished some drives better but I think the last five or six quarters have been pretty solid. It's going to have to be a lot better to beat a team like Seattle. This is a very talented football team coming in here Sunday."

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Seahawks DT Rocky Bernard vs. Bucs G Davin Joseph. Bernard is one of the elite defensive tackles in the NFL. Joseph is nursing a knee injury and has a big challenge in his final game of the season.

--Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck vs. Bucs S Jermaine Phillips. Hasselbeck needs to get the offense moving and generate some momentum heading into the playoffs. Phillips had two INTs last week at Cleveland, ending his streak of 28 games without a pick.

--Seahawks LT Walter Jones vs. Bucs RDE Dewayne White. Jones is a perennial Pro Bowl player and the Bucs will get one final evaluation of White, who will become an unrestricted free agent.

INJURY IMPACT: TE Alex Smith (back) CB Alan Zemaitis (shoulder) are doubtful for Sunday's game against Seattle. CB Juran Bolden, DL Julian Jenkins (ankle), G Davin Joseph (knee), S Jermaine Phillips (wrist), RB Carnell Williams (foot), LB Jamie Winborn (knee) and DT Ellis Wyms (ankle) are questionable.


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